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“Limits to Growth: The 30-year Update” by Meadows and Randers Analytical Essay

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Updated: Jan 22nd, 2020


The symptoms of the world in overshoot are all over the place, especially following the recent studies by numerous scientists around the globe. According to Meadows, Randers and Meadows (2004, p. 14), the need to develop the economy in various countries has led to the massive exploitation of the natural resources.

The main problem that is faced in this process is that there is lack of sustainability in the process of exploiting these natural resources. It is worrying that the rate at which the natural resources are drawn is higher than the rate at which nature is able to replenish them.

This means that there will come a time when these resources will not be available. The rate at which we release wastes into the environment is higher than the rate at which natural forces can render them safe. Global warming is an issue arising from the massive pollution of the environment.

The problems that the poor face in their struggle to earn a living is becoming more complicated. The rich control the world and understand the dangers of overexploitation and pollution, but they do not care about the consequences. Although the global society still has time to correct this, time to act is now otherwise it may be too late.

This concept discussed in the section above applies to the oil and gas organizations in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. These organizations have been involved in massive extraction of oil.

The rate at which these organizations extract oil is so high that it is estimated that these resources may be depleted in less than fifty years from now. Moreover, these companies have been accused of massive pollution of the environment, rendering most of the areas where extraction is being done agriculturally unproductive.

These companies must act now; otherwise the damage that will result from their activities may be irreversible.

The Driving Force: Exponential Growth

For over a century, the world has experienced what Meadows, Randers and Meadows (2004, p. 27) describe as exponential growth. The exponential expansion has not just been experienced in the industrial sector, but also in the population growth all over the world.

The overall rate of population growth has been on the rise over the recent times. A report published in the year 1972 revealed that the world had a total population of less than 4 billion people. Another report published in the year 2000 revealed that the population had grown to more than 6 billion people.

Economies in many countries have been expanding rapidly as the race to be the economic powers or to come out of the developing economies status intensifies. However, this impressive growth only benefited the rich. Less than twenty percent of the world’s richest individuals own more than eighty percent of the world’s resources.

The other population lives in object poverty. They do not have adequate shelter or proper nutrition. For the rich, issues such as saving, investing, and multiplying the capital is something that is within their capacity. The same cannot be said about the poor.

The concept in this chapter applies to the oil and gas companies in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. These large multinationals make billions of profits in the oil trade. They are able to save, invest and multiply their capital with ease. They can easily go for loans from the largest banks in the region to expand their operations.

They own the economy of these two countries even though their owners are just a small clique of the citizens. Their impressive capital base acts as their drivers to exponential growth.

The Limits: Sources and Sinks

The exponential growth that has been witnessed in the world over the past century has limits. The exploitation of non-renewable resources has reached its highest limits in the world’s history. Technology has helped in the development of sophisticated tools that can be used in the extraction of these resources from land and sea.

This has seen the amount of the non-renewable resources produced triple in the past two decades. The problem is that the faster these resources are exploited, the sooner they will be depleted. This massive exploitation and other economic activities such as industrialization are causing enormous pollution in the environment.

The greenhouse gases coming from the large companies are transforming the world negatively. Other pollutants such as oil spills are rendering land agriculturally unviable. This means that the renewable sources of wealth are affected in the process.

According to Meadows, Randers and Meadows (2004, p. 39), the quality of soil has been affected by either overproduction or exposure to the dangerous chemicals that destroy microorganisms.

In some regions of the world, scarcity of water has become a perennial problem because of unpredictable weather patterns. These forces have limited the exponential growth.

The oil and gas companies in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are faced with the realities presented in this chapter. They have been involved in massive exploitation of oil, and they are now faced with the problem of reduced levels of oil. Although they are still making huge profits, they are aware that this may not last long.

They will soon be faced with the need to look for alternatives. They will have to find alternative sources of income because the oil reserves in these countries may soon dry out.

World 3: the Dynamics of Growth in a Finite World

In the face of the massive threat that the current economic activities pose to the sustainability of the world, one positive factor that is worth noting is that the stakeholders have come to appreciate that action is needed as soon as possible. The threats must be identified and a model developed to manage them.

This is what World 3 seeks to offer. This computer generated model helps in understanding the way complex world systems change with time. As Meadows, Randers and Meadows (2004, p. 45) note, World 3 is based on the premise that we live in the finite world.

The earth’s capacity to sustain human needs depend on how well it is managed. It keeps track of issues such as environmental pollution, investment and depreciation, soil erosion among other issues that may affect the sustainability of the earth.

The model seeks to present the realities of the world but in an idealistic manner. It has basic assumptions of a perfect world where issues such as corruption, flooding, ethnic strife, AIDs pandemic, nuclear threats, or earthquakes do not exist.

It is a world that does not require a military power because everyone’s interest is to protect the world and everything in it.

To the oil companies in the United Arab Emirates, the model presented in World 3 is what they need to adopt. They are yet to give this model a considerable attention. The actions of these companies are still focused on maximizing the profits for the shareholders, giving total disregard to the need to champion for an idealistic environment.

Back from Beyond the Limits: The Ozone Story

It is important to appreciate that we are living in a finite world. In this world, there are limits to which individuals can exploit natural resources. Two centuries ago, the world seemed to be too large to be properly colonized by people in its entirety. Today, people are struggling to get small parcels of land that they can use for cultivation.

Large multinational companies have gone global in their attempt to maximize their profits. Industrialization has reached its highest limits and pollution is a reality today. Currently, the world has to grapple with the problem of dwindling supplies of oil, deforestation, species extinction, and climate change.

These are real threats to the world balance. What is even more worrying is the destruction of the ozone layer, a part of the earth’s system that makes the world habitable (Meadows, Randers & Meadows 2004, p. 51).

These are clear demonstrations that the current production processes have gone beyond the limits, and unless this can be reversed, then the world may soon be a planet that is devoid of living creatures.

The oil companies in the UAE and Qatar must beware of these risks of over-exploitation of the natural resources. The oil products have been considered the leading threats to the ozone layer. These companies should stop ignoring these threats.

They must understand that of the three pillars of sustainability, the environmental pillar is the most important one hence cannot be ignored. If the environment is not protected, then it will not be in a capacity to sustain all other factors of sustainability.

When these companies only focus on the third pillar of profitability, then it means they are going for the short-term benefits. Soon, the whole system will be unsustainable.

Technology, Markets, and Overshoots

World 3 technology has been largely criticized because it is believed that it ignores the role of technology in the market and in prevention of the overshoots. Technology is good, and it can be used to develop models that are beneficial to all.

In this book, the authors strongly believe that the only way of protecting the world from exploitation and excessive pollution is when the gap between the poor and the rich is minimized as much as possible. The desire to amass large amounts of wealth is what is driving the world to the edge.

The greed of the elites and their focus to ensure that the poor remains poor has resulted into massive exploitation of the economic resources. Technology is just but a tool. It can be used for the greater good or for the benefit of the few individuals who control the world.

The current threat to humanity posed by the nuclear weapons has been facilitated by the advancement in technology. The rich are using technology to expand the gap in wealth distribution. According to Meadows, Randers and Meadows (2004, p. 64), this makes technology a tool that does not enhance sustainability.

The oil and gas companies in the UAE and Qatar have embarked on modernizing their production systems. They are using state-of-the-art machines to extract and process oil. This only increases their profits, but ignores the need to protect the environment.

As this chapter illustrates, technology has acted as a tool to help the owners of these companies amass wealth and increase the gap between the rich and the poor. Sometimes these companies retrench employees because the machines are more efficient.

As a result, a section of the society remains jobless as the owners of the companies enjoy increased income due to decreased cost of labor.

Transitions to a Sustainable System

The increasing threat of pollution can no longer be ignored in the current society. There exists three ways in which the stakeholders can respond to this threat. The first, which was very popular till the recent past, was the attempt to deny that the threat exists, or an attempt to manipulate the threat for selfish benefits.

One of the ways that the leading economies were doing this was to ship toxic substances to distant regions for disposals. This explains why the developed economies were keen on giving out used computers to the society in the developing economies for free.

In essence, Meadows, Randers and Meadows (2004, p. 89) say that they were giving out waste toxic substances. This selfish approach to addressing the problem does not offer a lasting solution. These two approaches are short-lived.

The third approach, which these scholars support, is the need to identify and work on the fundamental causes to these threats with the view of addressing them in a conclusive and comprehensive manner that will satisfy the needs of all the stakeholders.

Using World 3, measures can be developed to help in the transition process, from a path towards doom, to a path of sustainable development.

To the oil and gas companies in UAE and Qatar, hiding from the real problem may not be the solution needed at this moment. It is time to act, and this starts by appreciating that there is a threat that needs to be addressed. The solution should focus on long-term benefits other than the need to amass wealth.

Tools for the Transition to Sustainability

As Meadows, Randers and Meadows (2004, p. 121) note, sustainability should not be considered to mean a zero growth. However, it means a growth that is natured to protect the future needs for development. The current developments should not be a threat to the future developments.

However, it should facilitate future growths by laying systems and structures that will be used by the current and future generations. To achieve this, it will be necessary to have tools that can be used in the transition from the current systems to sustainable systems.

Material growth is one such tools that these authors emphasize on in their book.

The scholars say that it is important to ask fundamental questions such as what the growth is meant for, the individuals who shall benefit from it, the cost it has especially to the environment, the duration which it will last benefiting these individuals, and the capacity of the earth to sustain it.

It is only when these questions are responded to satisfactorily that a growth can be considered sustainable. Technology, as a tool for enhancing sustainability, should be used responsibly.

It is important for the oil and gas companies in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar to embrace these tools in order to achieve sustainable production. It may not be easy for these companies to protect their future if they fail to embrace sustainability (Odell 2013, p. 79).

As they seek to diversify their products in preparation for the future, sustainable production should be part of their new systems.

List of References

Meadows, D, Randers, J & Meadows, D 2004, Limits to growth: The 30-year update, Chelsea Green Publishing Company, White River Junction.

Odell, P 2001, Oil and gas: Crises and controversies, 1961-2000, Multi-Science Publishers Company, Brentwood.

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